Conversion of cutters is not a “stand-alone strategy”
During the discussion, there seemed to be a general consensus within the CoP FGM that the conversion of cutters is not a strategy that would work in isolation, but instead would be effective if part of more holistic community approaches. Members stressed that FGM is a multi-faceted societal problem that needs a multi-faceted approach, with programmes that reach everyone in the society. They stressed the importance of considering the complex power structures that lie behind the practice. When the conversion of cutters into alternative professions is included in this global approach, it needs close monitoring and follow-up to be sure that it is effective.
According to Annemarie Middelburg, whose research focused on Senegal, it is important not to focus on the cutters in isolation:
“There is a need to sensitize all people in a community, including (religious) leaders, girls, women, grandmothers, boys, men, cutters, etc. who all have their own important role to play.We must not focus on the cutters in isolation, but look at them as part of the community.”
Members suggested that empowering cutters could help bring them to abandoning FGM, but that is not a stand-alone strategy, but one that should be coupled with messaging on the consequences of FGM.
Professor Alpha Amadou Bano Barry shared a case study from Guinea showing that girls had been cut by women who had previously been portrayed in media as having “dropped the knife”. In fact, they became more popular due to media exposure, and their demand went up. This is the reason why Barry emphasized that:
“this strategy of retraining excisors can only have real effects when it is accompanied by large-scale awareness campaigns aimed at the entire community.”
Empowering cutters is a crucial step to bringing them to abandon FGM. Cutters must be considered as part of the community, facing the same issues as other members, including poverty.
“The Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation” is part of the “Building Bridges between Africa and Europe to tackle FGM” project, supported by the “UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM”.
The project is coordinated by AIDOS in partnership with GAMS Belgium.
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